Wrongful Termination

Are there any specific laws that are relevant to wrongful termination in California?

Employment Law Attorney

There are a number of employment laws that make it illegal for employers to terminate their employees. Wrongful termination occurs when employers make the decision to fire an employee based on illegal reasons – reasons that violate the different employment laws in California.

Unfortunately, many employers choose to ignore employment laws. They subject their employees to adverse treatment which could eventually lead to termination. When employees are wrongfully terminated (depending on the specific details surrounding the termination), employees might have grounds to pursue employment claim against their employer – they might even have grounds to recover monetary compensation.

Not all people who have been fired can pursue a claim, however. Before just jumping into filing a wrongful termination claim, you should have at least a general understanding of employment law. Consider the following information.

Are You an Employee?

One of the most important questions when it comes to termination and determining whether you have grounds to pursue a claim is your employment classification. Only employees could file claims – an employee is someone who works directly under the control, supervision, or direction of an employer. In wrongful termination claims, an employer must end the employee’s employment. Therefore, non-employees, such as independent contractors, cannot pursue wrongful termination claims (although they could pursue claims for breach of contract, for example). If you are classified as an employee and you are wrongfully fired, you could take steps to hold your employer accountable for his or her illegal actions against you.

At-Will Employees

The majority of Californian employees are considered at-will. What does it mean to be an at-will employee. At-will employment essentially means that employees can leave their employment at any time; employers can fire the at-will employee at any time as well (given that the termination is legal). In fact, employers can legally terminate at-will employees for any reason as long as the reason for termination is not in violation of employment law.

On the opposite side of the spectrum, there are contracted employees – such as independent contractors, for example. Because independent contractors are not technically employees, they cannot pursue wrongful termination claims (although they could pursue claims for breach of contract, for example).

Back to at-will employees – although employers do not need a good reason for termination, employers cannot terminate their employees for any unlawful reasons. It is illegal for employers to terminate their employees on the basis of any protected personal characteristic (discriminatory reasons), because their employees exercised or tried to exercise their rights in the workplace, or in violation of any employment law, for example.

Employrs cannot Discriminate

It is illegal for employers to discriminate against their employees based on the Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA) – which is easily the most important employment law in California. Based on FEHA, employers cannot discriminate (take any negative employment actions like termination) against their employees based on any of the following protected personal characteristics: age (only when employees are ages 40+); race, color, origin, or ancestry; religion; disabilities (mental or physical); medical conditions; pregnancy; sex, gender, gender expression, or gender identity; sexual orientation; marital status; military or veteran status. When directly compared to Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, it is clear that FEHA offers a number of additional protections to employees; FEHA also applies to more employers (since it applies to all employers with 5 or more employees.

This law establishes that employers cannot discriminate against employees; they also cannot base a negative employment decision (such as termination) on discriminatory reasons. Besides FEHA, there are laws that make it illegal for employers to discriminate against their employees based on very specific reasons. These different laws make it illegal for employers to discriminate against employees (and make negative employment decisions against their employees based on the following: immigration status; their language; their political preferences/activities; their status as victims of specific crimes; their criminal history/record (before a conditional offer is made).

If termination occurs on the basis of any form of discrimination against the employee, he or she could take legal action against the employer that unlawfully fired him or her.

Employers Cannot Retaliate

Workplace retaliation occurs when employers take negative actions against an employee after the employee exercised his or her right as an employee. Employees have the right to exercise their law-protected employment rights in the workplace without the fear of retaliation – some of the common forms of retaliation against employees include termination and demotion, for example. Different anti-retaliation laws make it illegal for employers to do the following:

  • It is illegal for employers to retaliate against their employees for reporting any unlawful activities.
  • It is illegal for employers to retaliate against their employees for complain about, report, or simply oppose discrimination or harassment.
  • It is illegal for employers to retaliate against their employees for filing complaints for unpaid wages or underpaid wages (complaints with the Labor Commissioner.
  • It is illegal for employers to retaliate against their employees for discussing income.
  • It is illegal for employers to retaliate against their employees for making complaints to OSHA.
  • It is illegal for employers to retaliate against their employees for complaining about unlawful work conditions or even discussing work conditions.
  • It is illegal for employers to retaliate against their employees for requesting a reasonable accommodation.
  • It is illegal for employers to retaliate against their employees for filing a workers’ compensation claim.
Employers Cannot Terminate Employees for Requesting or Taking Time Off

California’s many employment laws establish the rights of employees to go on job-protected leave for a number of reasons. Californian employees have the right to take time off from work for all of the following: to deal with serious health conditions; to care for someone dealing with a serious health condition; to bond with a child; to deal with issues related to pregnancy (pregnancy disability leave); to deal with the sickness; to vote in elections; to go serve in the military; to participate in jury duty; to attend/participate in children’s school-related activities.

Employees have the right to request and go on leave for a number of reasons. It is their right as employees. If your employer terminated you because you went on leave or you requested to go on leave, your employer violated the law and your rights as an employee.

Steps to Take AFter Wrongful Termination

After you were terminated from your job for seemingly no valid reason, it might be difficult to think clearly to and act with a purpose. If you are interested in taking action against your employer, it is essential that you act promptly to ensure that you gather the tools necessary to take action against your employer.

Some of the most important things that you should do include all of the following:

  • Document everything. How were you terminated? Why were you terminated? What did your employer say or do before your termination and while he or she was informing you of the termination? The answers to these questions will provide you with a general idea surrounding your termination. Even if your employer seemed to be feeding you excuses, everything is relevant to the big picture. You must try to prevent your feelings (anger, shock, disappointment, etc.) from clouding your judgement and being able to see your termination as a whole.
  • Review the terms of your employment. Are you an at-will employee? Were you contracted to work for a specific length of time? If you have a contract, your termination could violate the specific terms of the contract leaving you with grounds to take legal action. Even if you are an at-will employee, a termination could be unlawful.
  • Review employment laws and your rights
Examples of Past Wrongful Termination Cases

No two wrongful termination cases are the same. Consider some of the following examples of wrongful termination cases:

  • Viola Faruku v. Los Angeles County and Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department (defensive verdict). In this case, the plaintiff worked as a security offer with the sheriff’s department. In 2014, she went on vacation and was supposed to return to work on August 25. Her flight was canceled. Although she arranged another flight for the next day, she missed the connecting flight. The plaintiff was eventually able to fly to another city where she allegedly got sick and became unable to travel for a few weeks. About three weeks later, she finally returned to work. Just one month later, she became pregnant. A few months later, she went on maternity leave and eventually returned to work. When she returned, she was informed that she was suspended from work “pending an investigation” into “improperly extending her vacation” in 2014. Although the plaintiff claimed that she was terminated based on pregnancy discrimination, the defense made it clear that they always respected her rights during and after her pregnancy. They also made it clear that her maternity leave and her pregnancy were not factors in her termination, but rather her extended vacation in violation of company policy.
  • S. Ortiz, et al., Plaintiffs v. Gerardo Alvarez, et al., Defendants. One of the plaintiffs in the case, Juan Sandoval, worked as an assistant superintendent. He and a co-worker were tasked with reviewing the school district’s (PUSD) compliance with Title VI of the Civil Rights Act. After noticing an issue with compliance, the co-worker reported the findings to the defendant, who made the decision to demote her. Juan Sandoval told the defendant that the demotion was unlawful; in return, Sandoval was placed on administrative leave. A lack of documentation resulted in Sandoval being reinstated to his position. In another incident just a few months later, the defendant asked Sandoval to recommend that the school board deny an employee’s contract for the upcoming year. Sandoval explained that he could not do that; the defendant continued to harass Sandoval until Sandoval decided to file a complaint with the school district. A few days later, the plaintiff was placed on administrative leave and terminated a few months later. In this case, it is clear that the employee was subject to negative employment decisions (administrative leave and eventually termination) based on the refusal to participate in and the reporting of unlawful activities.
Could You Be Awarded Any Compensation?

Will you be eligible to recover any form of compensation if you were wrongfully terminated? If your wrongful termination reaches a successful outcome, you might be eligible to recover monetary compensation. What type of compensation could you receive? In general, the compensation available for recover could include any wages lost (back pay and front pay) in addition to compensation for any lost work-related benefits and mental/emotional distress caused by the termination. This amount of compensation granted is directly associated with what the employee would have received had he or she not been wrongfully terminated. In addition, the wrongfully terminated employee could also recover compensation for legal costs and punitive damages. In some cases, employees are even reinstated into their workplace upon reaching a successful claim outcome. Regardless of the specific details on the claim, employees who have been wrongfully terminated might be eligible to recover at least some monetary compensation.

Do You Have a Wrongful Termination Case?

Do you have the right to file a wrongful termination claim against your employer? If you believe that you were wrongfully terminated, you might have grounds to pursue a claim. Whether you were terminated because of your race, color, religion, or age, you might have grounds to file a claim. If you were terminated because you were pregnant or because of anything directly related to your pregnancy, you might have grounds to file a claim. If you were terminated because you complained about sexual harassment, discrimination, or any dangerous activity at the workplace, you might have grounds to file a claim. If you were terminated after you brought forth issues with your meal periods, rest breaks, or wages, you might have grounds to pursue a claim.

Employees who have been unlawfully and unfairly terminated from their workplace usually have the right to pursue a wrongful termination claim. If you would like to explore the possibility of filing a wrongful termination claim against your employer, seeking the expertise of an attorney might be the best option available to you.

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